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Southern Thunder

Southern Thunder

Steve R Dunn
ARRSE Rating
4.5 Mushroom Heads
I’ve always had an interest in ‘side-shows’ in war. As a school boy the main events of both World Wars we well covered but there seemed to be little cover of smaller campaigns. I had a passing interest in the Scandinavian countries and wondered how they got on as neutrals during World War One. Wikipedia gave some information but it never seemed to be enough, so when Auld Yin offered this book this book for review; I asked for it. Good choice.

The book is divided into three parts, has 16 pages of illustrations, eight appendixes, comprehensive notes, bibliography and index. While this may make it sound scholarly, it is an entertaining read of well researched economic and naval history.

Part one starts with pre-war naval treaties, especially commerce and commercial contraband to lay the basis of the rest of the book. The economies, policies and politics of the Scandinavian nations along with the benefits and problems they had from the first years of the war is discussed, along with the attempts of both Britain and Germany to both bend the rules, and the neutrals, to their advantage. The United States claims that the British blockade is hurting it’s trade, while the reverse is shown to be true with large amounts of trade going through Scandinavia to third party countries; Russia good, Germany bad. The first page of part one shows the truth of Clemenceau’s ‘War is too serious a matter to entrust to military men’ with some very dangerous thinking by a very senior naval officer. (Yes, I thought it was Churchillian too.)

Part two examines how the convoy system came into being and it appears to me to be almost by accident despite the Admiralty’s best efforts to scupper it. Early successes against the U-boats are compared with two surface raider battles in which the Germans got the upper hand and both Royal Navy and Merchant Marine ships, both British and neutral, were lost. I was aware of these actions but could never find much information on them and Dunn narrates them well. The day to day boredom and dangers of bad weather are covered with the wrecking of HMS Opal and Narborough at the entrance to Scapa Flow as a reminder that the sea can be enemy to friend and foe alike.

Part three cover more on the small ships and the men who crewed them, the dangers of weather and the constant strain. There is a necessarily dry, but readable, analysis of the Scandinavian convoys, as well as mention of the Memorials to all the seamen who died, from battles, wrecks or sheer bad fortune. As Dunn says; ‘We should never forget.’

Despite covering politics, economics and naval tactics the book is very readable, educational and entertaining: laced with personal vignettes which bring us closer to the tragedies that war brings. Southern Thunder would make a good addition to a naval library and is the first of Steve Dunn’s books that I have read; I’m likely to source his others. An excellent book – 4.5 Mr Mushroomheads.

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